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Organizations In The 21st Century

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By Imonikhe Ahimie


The world’s business environment, just like life in its wider scope, has just one characteristic that can be defined as constant; that characteristic is change. Given this constant, organisations that have an intention of achieving success or, having achieved success in the past, have an intention of building upon past successes must be change compliant, if one might coin a term. Adapt or die, is the first, and the last, rule of survivability; indeed it is the only rule.

The last several decades have witnessed dramatic changes in the nature of the world economy; life is no longer what it used to be and it has changed in more ways than could have been imagined just a couple or so decades back. The changes that we have witnessed in that time are such that a worker transported by means of a time machine back to 1994 would face an almost insurmountable task to fit into the work culture of that period. Sent back just another couple of decades, to 1974, such a worker would be just as useful as if he or she had been sent back to 1914 (the year that the First World War started) or 1814 (the year before Napoleon’s final defeat at Waterloo)! The technologies deployed by organisations; the cultural and demographic make-up of workforces around the world; these and more have undergone drastic change over the last 20 years. For the worker who was born in 1974, a mere 40 years back, such are the changes that he or she has gone through in his or her lifetime.

It is the nature of the change that we have seen of the last several years that is interesting; life, after all as pointed out above, is subject to change. The changes that we have seen over the last several years differ from the changes that humans have hitherto had to cope with, at least in such a short time frame: they are at once permanent as well as being subject to continuous change! This statement is not as paradoxical as it seems at sight. The changes are permanent because, once implemented, they change once and for all the way we do things; however the changes are subject to continuing modification as new developments come aboard which produce new changes which continue to affect the way and manner in which life and work is structured.

It must not be thought that because most of the changes that we have seen and are likely to see have been propelled by the phenomenal advances in computer technology that only those organisations in the (what we may call) high tech areas of the economy are affected by these changes. Indeed, it is safe to say that in the 21st century all organisations are new ones or/and in the process of transiting into becoming new ones. Take, for instance, the cashless policy introduced by the Central Bank. The fact that as we go on into the future the spare parts dealer at Ladipo Market is obliged to do the greater part of his business without the exchange of physical cash is a major change in the way that that sector of the economy operates and as the change becomes more and more embedded it is bound to lead to further changes in the spare parts distributive trade, especially in the human resources that will be deployed in the sector, the financial institutions that provide the financial services that the sector depends upon, as well as those who supply the markets and those who come to buy the spare parts.

The change dynamic therefore affects every single resource (physical, information technology, human, financial, etc.) which the organisation deploys in order to achieve those goals for which the organisation has been created. Having said this though, the most important factor, and the factor which is most resistant to change within the organisation, is the human factor. In a situation where an organisation’s human resources fails to adapt to change, the failure to adapt will, almost inevitably, lead to the demise of the organisation notwithstanding the quality or otherwise of the non-human resources deployed by the organisation. For the organisation that has a real interest in long-term survival, the human factor must continually be groomed so that there is a constant and dynamic interaction between worker and organisation which interaction facilitates the interaction between the organisation and its customer/client base.

The Marketplace in Century 21

Notwithstanding that an organisation has acquired all the latest in available physical resources; re-engineered its financial procedures; etc., such an organisation is still likely to go the way of the dinosaur if its human resources do not come up to scratch. It is incumbent on every organisation that has a serious desire to continue in existence to polish up its human resources; in this regards, a needs assessment can play a vital role.

A needs assessment is a methodical analysis of how an organisation performs on the one hand as compared to how it ought to perform on the other hand. Because improving the quality of an organisation’s human resources can be an extremely costly exercise it makes sense that management assess the organisation’s actual needs before funds are deployed for training and other HR development programmes. The following are some of the steps that need to be taken if a proper needs assessment is to be done.

  • Gap Analysis: A gap analysis is simply a comparison as between the actual performance of the organisation and workforce being analysed and those which it is expected should be delivered – whether these expected standards are actually an existing set of standards or an entirely new set of standards which the organisation aspires to. Properly carried out, a gap analysis will provide management with the actual state of the organisation’s human resource factor in terms of skills, knowledge, etc. as against the goals which the organisation aspires to reach taking into consideration the other factors of production that the organisation has deployed. Further, the analysis ought to identify those conditions that support the workforce in the effort to attain goals and those conditions which militate against goals attainment.

It is important to note that what it is sought to determine in carrying out a gap analysis are the actual as opposed to the perceived needs of the organisation as well as identifying those critical tasks that must be performed in order to achieve desired ends. The gap that exists between the situation on-ground when set out against the ends which are desired identifies those areas where the organisation needs to put in more effort.

  • Having determined the gaps between reality and expectation, the organisation must prioritise amongst all the needs that the needs analysis have brought out, given the constraints that all organisations face in the real world. Whilst priorities are bound to differ as between different organisations, there exist certain common areas which should concern all organisations; for instance, if there is a legal requirement to do or not to do something, such a requirement should obviously rank high in an organisation’s priorities.

At all events, a cost/benefit analysis (aka an economic gap analysis) ought to carried out on all the prioritised areas in order to determine the cost effectiveness of each of the items on the priority list so that all identified issues can be dealt with in a manner that provides the greatest value per unit to the organisation.

  • In prioritising, two questions are vital.
  1. Do the employees know how to do their jobs?, and
  2. Are they doing those jobs in the most effective manner possible?

If at all possible, one ought not to trouble trouble, so that if the answer to questions are yes, then well ought to be left well alone, although if there is an intention to move people into new functions and/or performance into new directions then some form of training  or other human resource intervention may be required. If the answer to the questions is no, then more proactive intervention is likely needed so as to address the lack of knowledge amongst the workforce and/or the causes of ineffectual performance amongst the workforce. Such intervention may include strategic planning techniques, performance management methods, more comprehensive and in-depth training in order to address in a more direct manner the systemic issues that underlie the problems that undermine the efficiency and productivity of the workforce.

Several techniques are available whereby the assessor  can get a true and complete picture, insofar as that is possible, of the organisation from multiple viewpoints, e.g. direct observation, the use of questionnaires administered to the workforce, interviews with key personnel (though it should be kept in mind that key personnel need not necessarily be management), tests, assessing work samples, etc. A judicious mix of such techniques is more likely to produce a truer and more complete picture. Many people are unable to properly distinguish between wants and needs either on a personal or organisational level, and the assessor ought always to keep this fact in mind as the assessment proceeds and differing views as to how best organisational aims can be achieved are provided by different people/sections within the organisation.

A needs assessment can be carried out by independent consultants who specialise in this field, but there is no reason why any organisation which possesses a well-grounded in-house Human Resources Department cannot carry out its own needs assessment either as an independent assessment or as an adjunct  to an assessment carried out by an outside expert. Indeed, it ought to be considered to be a fundamental function of the HR Department to carry out regular, periodic needs assessments for in the dynamic environment that organisations now find themselves, there is a need to be always abreast of the ever changing requirements for continuous and sustainable survival.

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